Local News

Commissioners Eye New Courthouse Plan

Thayer County Commissioners heard a bit of surprising news at their March 21 meeting as they received an updated proposal for the ongoing courthouse project. Jerry Berggren, of Berggren Architects, laid out the new plan after receiving requirements from the state fire marshal’s office.

Imbedded in the next venture is an approximate $180,000 surprise the commissioners weren’t counting on. The extra costs are spread out over four phases of a new plan that totals $921,000.

In March 2011, a year ago, the firm submitted a cost estimate of $688,750 plus a 20 percent contingency fee for the entire renovation. If the 20 percent fee were spent,” said Commissioner Dean Krueger of the 2011 quote, “the total possible bill would have been $826,500.”

However, a red flag went up for him, he said, when the 2011 estimate did not include a $117,000 cost for labor to install the windows. “Window replacement was quoted as $108,000; however, the cost for labor was not included in the total quote,” he said and added that the error was acknowledged and corrected. After adding the labor in, the new project estimate became $805,750. Including a 20 percent contingency fee, the new total came to approximately $966,900. The windows were installed at a cost of $225,000 (plus an additional $11,000 for an overhead and profit fee) and after subtracting this from the total, including the contingency fee, the commissioners were looking at finishing the courthouse renovation for approximately $742,000.

Krueger said the commissioners were also warned at a February board meeting this year to expect a three percent increase in material costs to complete the remaining phases. “We were expecting to  complete the project for an additional $742,000, and now, after having finished the window installation for over twice what we were quoted, are being told it will cost $921,000 more to finish the rest.”

Blame the fire codes, said Berggren AIA associate project manager Wim Kersten at the March 21 meeting. “Whatever you do next, you’ve got to put in the exit stair tower first per the fire marshal’s request. That’s your next step (Phase 1), but what’s changed in the cost of the project is that the fire marshal also requires it to have sprinklers,” Kersten said and explained that the requirement added expense to the tower. The new project total quote  also includes a 15 percent contingency fee, he said.

In the 2011 estimate, the architectural firm estimated the cost of the tower (fire escape) would run $272,000 at most, but the March 21 proposal held a $350,000 estimate. Kersten attributed the higher cost to inflated prices of materials and the fact that the tower had to be sprinkled.

“If someone leaves a door open from the courthouse to the tower,” said state fire marshal Pat Merrick who was present at the Wednesday meeting, “flames could spread into the tower, so sprinklers are required there.”

Additionally, sprinklers are now required in the attic, which is, Kersten said, like adding a new room. “We did not foresee a requirement to sprinkle the attic,” he said. Cost of the additional sprinklers was added into the third floor renovation plan (Phase 2) which is now estimated at $335,000.
Berggren suggested pairing the fire escape project with the third floor renovation to “get more bang for your buck,” he said to the commissioners.

“You’ll save about $30,000 in administrative costs, bid processes and having the contractor come back,” he said, however noted that coming up with nearly $700,000 for both projects at once might be difficult. “Money-wise, we’d like to do it last,” said commission president Dave Bruning, “but safety-wise, we need to do it first.” Also, incorporating the addition of sprinklers from the attic down makes more sense, he added.

Currently there is no state mandated law or timeline to make courtrooms secure, only suggestions and guidelines, which is the reason for the renovation.

Phase three of the new plan includes the renovation of the first and second floors at an estimated cost of $224,000, while the final phase,  lighting on the walkways and exits of the courthouse, will run approximately $12,000.

Adding the new estimate to the already completed windows pushes the cost to approximately $1.15 million.

The continually changing dollar estimates cause Krueger concern as to what the final cost might really be to complete the four-phase project. “As it stands now, this new proposal doesn’t include requested updates in security and audio/visual equipment for the renovated courtroom, either,” and noted the possible addition of overhead and profit fees attached to each phase of the project when the job was done as well as inflationary increases for materials along the way.

Commissioner Bruning said he, Chris Frye and Krueger would study the proposal and discuss what steps to take in the next few weeks.

Leave a Reply